Jammin’ with Tisha Fein

Posted on Sep 5, 2018


Tisha Fein has been a producer and talent executive of The Grammy Awards for over thirty-five years. She was the music producer for Stand Up to Cancer, talent producer for We Are The World and a producer for the Nobel Peace Prize concert.

FC: You hung around some legendary comedians when you were a kid. How did that happen exactly?

TF: My dad was a talent manager and he worked with Jack Benny and George Burns, among many others. Growing up around them was like a master class in comedy, really.

FC: What kind of impression did that leave on you?

TF: They were really professional. Always on time. And absolutely in love with Show Business. I used to go to the Jack Benny rehearsals on Saturdays and just watch. He was very respectful of all his writers, which he called “The Boys.” The biggest impression it left on me was seeing just how much Jack, and George for that matter, were devoted to getting things right. They made it look easy, but I knew why…

FC: Funny how the most talented artists are also the hardest working. How did you end up breaking into the music industry?

TF: I had all kinds of jobs before music. I worked for a publisher, and a casting agent, and as a trainee at a modeling agency. Those girls were never on time. I learned a lot working for Johnny Carson and Dick Clark, too. But my break came when I got a gig as a producer on The Midnight Special, which was a late-night musical variety series on NBC. I started booking talent, and met Wolfman Jack, and I was out seeing music all over town at place like the Troubadour, and the Roxy.

FC: It’s always a surprise when you first go to the Troubadour and realize how small it is. Maybe five hundred people? What were some of the more memorable shows you saw there?

TF: Oh, I saw Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, Ricky Lee Jones, Randy Newman, Harry Neilson. Then there were the Roxy shows, which were across the street from our offices. I saw a young Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen Smokey Robinson. I saw The Doors at the Whiskey and went to a couple parties in Laurel Canyon where Jim was hanging out. So very cool…

FC: A living legend. Did you ever see Elvis?

TF: Well, that’s a funny question. When I was working with Dick Clark we did a tribute to Elvis and this was before the phenomenon of Elvis impersonators everywhere. I mean, we had to hunt these guys down. And take out ads to find them. Ultimately they came out of the woodwork. There was a Jewish Elvis and this Elvis and that Elvis-- all these different Elvis’s and it’s funny, because we were rehearsing at Capitol Records and we needed to take a break, so we sent them to Martoni’s on Sunset, which was a music industry hang out, and bought them drinks. And everyone there was stunned when twelve Elvis’s walked up to the bar. No one could believe it.

FC: Now it happens nightly… Do you still see live music?

TF: All the time. But not as much as I used to, which was every night, and usually more than one show.

FC: And it led to producing the Grammy’s, which you’ve done for over thirty-five years. How have they changed?

TF: Well, we used to produce them at the Shrine, which was maybe six thousand people, and we ended up at the Staples Center and Madison Square Garden.

FC: So it grew big time.

TF: And the attitude has changed. It used to be more about the music, honestly. All of the labels and the executives were truly music lovers. They went out and supported their bands. People were making money, but it felt a lot less like the “business” it’s become today.

FC: Were there other women in the music industry when you were coming up?

TF: Not many.

FC: You were a pioneer.

TF: I was one of the lucky ones.

FC: What was the first band that really blew your mind?

TF: Oh, that would have to be Led Zeppelin. I was just like, wow. They were like gods. Later, I did a tribute for Eric Clapton, who I’m still star struck by. Same for James Taylor, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and BB King, who was one of my all time favorites. And working with Aretha Franklin was always a trip. She’s amazing.

FC: And a fellow Friar. How did you first get involved with the Friars Club?

TF: It was when Martin Scorsese received the Friar’s Clubs Icon Award. I was a huge fan of his films and when a friend asked if I’d like to be involved, I happily agreed to help book the musical talent for that night, which included Elvis Costello and Diana Krall. And that has led to other Friars events, and each one is an honor.

FC: The Friars take special pride in the work they do for charity. There’s a long list of philanthropies you’ve donated your effort to: Stand Up to Cancer, We Are the World, and The Nobel Peace Prize concert. What is one of the more meaningful events you produced?

TF: I helped produce an eleven-hour concert at Wembley Stadium in London to help free Nelson Mandela. It was Nelson’s 75th birthday and he was still in jail. The show opened with Sting and took off from there. George Michael, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Chrissie Hynde, Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, Natalie Cole, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, Eurythmics, Johnny Clegg… It closed with a reunion of Dire Straights with Eric Clapton joining.

FC: A serious line-up for a serious cause… Last question: If you could switch places with a female musician for a night, who would it be?

TF: Wow. That’s a tough one. If I were to pick someone contemporary, part of me wants to say Jennifer Lopez, because she has so much fun. But I also love Bruno Mars. How about you?

FC: I’m just an anonymous set of interview initials.

TF: Don’t let that stop you. You can be whatever you want in this world.

FC: Okay… Frank Sinatra.

TF: That’s what I’m talking about! Now go do it Your Way…